Miami Dolphins schedule analysis

Breakdown: The Miami Dolphins loaded up in free agency -- and for good reason. This is a 7-9 team expected to make the jump into playoff contention this season. But in order to do so, the Dolphins must be good enough to survive the eighth-toughest strength of schedule in the NFL.

That explains the signings of quality free agents such as receiver Mike Wallace, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, tight end Dustin Keller and cornerback Brent Grimes. The Dolphins needed to add playmakers on both sides of the football if they wanted to compete with the top teams on their schedule.

The television networks have taken notice. Miami will have three prime-time games this season. The Dolphins will play road games against the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 30 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 11 on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” in addition to playing the Cincinnati Bengals on “Thursday Night Football” on the NFL Network.

Complaint department: How good are the Dolphins? We will find out right away in the month of September. Miami plays three of its first four games on the road. The Dolphins will play at the Cleveland Browns in Week 1, at the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2, home against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3, and at the New Orleans Saints in Week 4. This is a rough way to begin the season. Miami’s pass defense struggled last season, and the Dolphins will face quarterbacks Andrew Luck, Matt Ryan and Drew Brees in consecutive weeks.

Wallace and Ellerbe Bowls: Wallace will play against his former team -- the Pittsburgh Steelers -- on Dec. 15 at Heinz Field. This is an interesting matchup for two AFC teams expected to be playoff contenders this coming season. Wallace signed a $60 million contract, the Dolphins' biggest free-agent signing this offseason. Wallace was a former third-round draft choice in Pittsburgh in 2009. Ellerbe will face the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 6 in Miami. Ellerbe won a Super Bowl with the Ravens last season before signing a $35 million contract with Miami.

Dolphins Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 8, at Cleveland, 1:00 p.m.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 15, at Indianapolis, 1:00 p.m.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 22, Atlanta, 4:05 p.m.

Week 4: Monday, Sept. 30, at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 6, Baltimore, 1:00 p.m.

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 20, Buffalo, 1:00 p.m.

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 27, at New England, 1:00 p.m.

Week 9: Thursday, Oct. 31, Cincinnati, 8:25 p.m.

Week 10: Monday, Nov. 11, at Tampa Bay, 8:30 p.m.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 17, San Diego, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 24, Carolina, 1:00 p.m.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 1, at NY Jets, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 8, at Pittsburgh, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 15, New England, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 22, at Buffalo, 1:00 p.m.

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 29, NY Jets, 1:00 p.m.